I realized early, never a seminary theme, that ministry is not a popularity contest. It’s a call to life to never avoid vulnerability. I remember once listening to William Sloane Coffin, who to a group of clergy, myself included, said, “The task of preaching is to preach vulnerability.”
That meant never to presume the human condition is either good or evil. It means the human condition is the human condition and the task of ministry is not to be in denial of same.
It wasn’t just random I more than encouraged clergy when I was a Conference Minister, “In your communication, always remember to keep the ratio of two ears and one mouth.”
I know. With a “major surgical event on the horizon,” I should think of that.
But, I cannot this morning, Saturday, February 15. I simply cannot.
Because in reading today’s headlines, which say more than plenty about how finding the ilk in others is a new normal, I recalled when people tried to shout me down.
Yep, it happened.
Twice come to me now.
The first was in June of 1972 when I was invited to deliver the commencement address to the South Eugene High School graduating class. The time of that day was in the 1972 General Election, many of those high school graduates would be voting for the first time. The two candidates were George McGovern and Richard Nixon.
Probably influenced by a church member, who “just happened” to be a Senator, Wayne Morse, I found no personal lean in support of Richard Nixon.
To that end, in the middle of the speech I urged those voting for a U.S. President for the first time to “vote for a peace candidate who vows to end the Vietnam War now with no bombs attached.”
I never got out the next sentence! Oh, I need to say the commencement service was in a baseball stadium and the lectern was on the pitcher’s mound. So, I considered my speech another example of “pitching.”
The parent shouted, “RICHARD NIXON FOREVER!”
Then another parent stood and started to sing, “God Bless America!”
Somehow. Not sure how. But somehow I finished the speech.
Another time, during Conference Ministry in Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi, we gathered clergy on the theme of retirement. Literally in the middle of the presenter’s speech, a clergy member of the conference stood up and yelled at me, “You are worthless; you have no place; you know nothing about ministry!”
When he finished, the speaker, cooler than I could ever hope, was able to transition back to the theme of living well in retirement.
Also in that moment, the former conference minister, Jim Tomasek, God rest his soul, a fantastic predecessor, leaned over and whispered to me, “That’s almost exactly what he said to me publicly a few years ago…welcome to the Rant Upon Club!”
So. Life. Today. For most of us, filled with dysfunction in the headlines.
I know. I really do. My task is not to make a speech. My task is to breathe, take care of my heart, trust Dr. King to be at his best next week, and more than anything to give thanks. Because to and with me, gratitude is the best voice to speak and hear. Gratitude needs to prevail. Big-time.
Okay. That’s enough. At least for today.